On Body and Soul Screen 13 articles

On Body and Soul

2017

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  • From a purely political perspective, the distance between last year’s Golden Bear winner, Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea, and this year’s, Ildikó Enyedi’s ludicrous lucid-dream romance On Body and Soul, should tell you all you need to know about the generally anodyne nature of the main program.

  • The problem here is that the jury seems to have awarded Best Picture to the “Most Picture,” a film so muddled and overstuffed that it could, in just the right German winter light, appear moving or profound. Really, On Body and Soul is a tangle of conflicting impulses, but to Enyedi’s credit (I suppose), she manages to partly conceal this with a thin veneer of placid respectability.

  • Even the award-winner failed to wow me as it ventured too far into irresponsible treatment of mental illness territory for my liking. I’m filing it under Amelie in my fantasy rolodex of overrated and ultimately empty films.

  • The film builds to something of an emotional climax, but is marred by the continuous indecisiveness of the director, uncertain whether she is making a work of mundane kitchen-sink realism or eccentric surrealism – whether, that is, she should take the path of Loach or Buñuel.

  • A remarkable film in many ways: the cinematography makes decapitation of a cow mesmerising for its beauty as much as its horror; the unusual, alluring premise of a shared dream-life resonates extraordinarily well with our fundamental desire for intimacy... For me, it was also a special film in its singularity. I have never been so thoroughly enchanted by a film for most of its runtime only to leave the theatre irritated and disappointed.

  • Enyedi put herself on the map with her 1989 debut My Twentieth Century, and she maintains that movie’s mix of magical realist humor and stylized sensuality in this story of two lonely slaughterhouse employees who go to absurd lengths to fall into each other’s arms. A bit stretched at two hours, with a second act that could be tightened up, the story nonetheless finds its way to a solid ending straight out of the Nora Ephron playbook, albeit with a lot more blood and unpredictable behavior.

  • Enyedi and cinematographer Máté Herbai give the film a Nordic look and feel with one or two frames suggesting Roy Andersson and a few deadpan exchanges hinting at Aki Kaurismäki. The imaginative camerawork and the grim backdrop of the slaughterhouse (and at least one sequence will have some viewers converting to vegetarianism) save this love story from dissolving into mere preciousness—but only just.

  • By the time that romance blooms between Endre and the slaughterhouse's new safety inspector, Mária (Alexandra Borbély), Enyedi has fashioned a rich dystopian atmosphere out of a reality that people take for granted. Enyedi's geometric images and flamboyant symbolism make the commonplace of the meat industry seem authentically horrible, while giving an idealized romance the gritty counterpoint it needs to take emotional flight.

  • The story of two damaged, solitary souls trying to make contact in a harsh, uncomprehending world is one of the oldest in the book, but delicate psychological insight, a strong aesthetic signature and two affecting, restrained performances by Alexandra Borbély and Géza Morcsányi overcome any familiarity, as well as occasional hints of preciousness.

  • Perhaps the most fairytale-like of all the films in competition was Ildikó Enyedi’s Of Body and Soul, which won the Golden Bear. Right from the opening scenes it announces its poeticism... To reveal more here would be unfair to Enyedi’s highly imaginative, frequently humorous film; suffice to say that the camerawork is very impressive throughout. The cast, meanwhile, some of them particularly well chosen for their memorable faces, give fine performances...

  • It’s the discovery of this nocturnal sharing, via the sceptical psychiatrist, that brings them together – a turning point in the plot that, in the wrong hands, could have felt intolerably cutesy. Enyedi, though, handles this along with the other stages in their hesitant, tentatively developing relationship with quiet subtlety, often depicting her solitary pair in their respective apartments with through-window night shots that recall the paintings of Edward Hopper.

  • The film evolves into a surprisingly touching metaphor for the randomness and helplessness of falling in love, which is, after all, part of its appeal. And whenever it’s in danger of becoming too precious, Enyedi provides us with a moment of black humor or some other, forensically unsqueamish proof that she is anything _but_ precious.

  • It presents us with both the aestheticisation and the normalisation of violence, turning its implications back onto the spectator. The film’s depiction of female suffering and self-inflected violence echo these earlier scenes at the abattoir, treading a fine line between formal affectivity and aestheticisation as exploitation. Ultimately, however, On Body and Soul presents an affecting, tender portrait of our search for contact against – and with – the violence we do to others and to ourselves.

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